Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Frosted Sugar Cookies

Every time I walk into my local Waldbaum's I see these wonderful looking cookies. They're soft and chewy sugar cookies frosted with bright and vibrant frosting. They look so adorable and festive, especially when topped with sprinkles. Each time I want to buy a pack and devour them all...but my conscience tells me not to, so I listen to it.

But one day, when I was home with nothing to do, I had the greatest desire to make these festive treats. So I did. And they were delicious. They're chewy, soft, and not overly sweet. The frosting adds just the right amount of flavor. Let's face it...frosting makes everything better. Just like bacon.

I wish I could say that this is my own original recipe, but sadly it is not. I borrowed this recipe from the lovely Annie of Annie's Eats. I love her blog and her recipes are easy and delicious. She's also an excellent photographer. The pictures she takes make her food look just that much more delectable.

Well, I guess it's time for the recipe. It's extremely simple, but it requires that you chill the cookies for 1 hour. I know, I know. A whole extra hour of waiting is needed in order to dig into these cookies. You must resist temptation, however, because the chill-time is what gives these cookies such great texture.

Frosted Sugar Cookies
makes about 2 dozen cookies

4½ cups all-purpose flour
4½ tsp. baking powder
¾ tsp. salt
1½ cups (3 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1½ cups sugar
3 large eggs
5 tsp. vanilla extract

for the cookies: preheat the oven to 350˚ F.  Line baking sheets with parchment paper or silicone baking mats.  In a medium bowl combine the flour, baking powder and salt, and whisk together to blend.  In the bowl of an electric mixer, combine the butter and sugar and beat together on medium-high speed until soft and fluffy, about 2-3 minutes.  Beat in the eggs one at a time, mixing well after each addition and scraping down the bowl as needed.  Blend in the vanilla.  With the mixer on low speed, add in the dry ingredients mixing just until incorporated and evenly mixed.  Cover and chill the dough for 1 hour.

When you are ready to bake the cookies, scoop a scant quarter cup of dough and roll into a ball.  Flatten the ball slightly and place on the prepared baking sheet. Repeat with the remaining dough, spacing the cookies at least 2-3 inches apart. Bake about 10-12 minutes or just until set.  (Do not overbake!  The edges should be no more than very lightly browned if at all.)  Let cool on the baking sheet for several minutes.  Transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.

5 cups confectioners’ sugar, sifted
1/3 cup (5 1/3 tbsp.) unsalted butter, melted
1 tbsp. vanilla extract
7-8 tbsp. milk (plus more, as needed)
Food coloring (optional)
Sprinkles (optional)
To frost the cookies, place the confectioners’ sugar in a medium bowl.  Add the melted butter, vanilla, and milk to the bowl and whisk until smooth.  Whisk in additional milk as necessary, 1 teaspoon at a time, until you reach your desired consistency.  Tint with food coloring if desired.  Use an offset spatula or spoon to frost the cooled cookies.  (If the frosting begins to thicken as you decorate, just continue to whisk in small amounts of milk to keep it workable.)  Top with sprinkles if desired.  Store in an airtight container.

If you do choose to make these cookies, which I highly recommend you do, don't share them with your friends. You'll never be able to taste one. They'll sell out instantly. Trust me, I made that mistake. They're absolutely delicious and buttery. You won't be able to make them just once.

Happy Baking!

Friday, May 4, 2012

French Macarons

They should change the phrase to, "fourth time's the charm." That's how many times it took me to finally be able to make a decent looking macaron. For years I've been fascinated with these little french treats, but I've been too afraid to make them myself. But recently, I've been obsessed and I had to give them a try.

The perfect macaron consists of three key aspects: 
1. They must have feet! It's the key to a beautiful looking macaron. It's what makes you do a double take when you pass by a french patisserie.
2. The exterior must be crunchy and glossy! You know you have a beautiful macaron when the exterior shell has a good crunch when you bite into it. Also, they must have a nice shine to it. Food is half aesthetics....isn't it?
3. The interior should have a soft, meringue texture! A perfect macaron always has a smooth and chewy interior. It should be soft but still have a nice bite to it.

My first attempt was a total flop. The macarons were mishapen, deflated, and lacked the proper "feet." The had a nice chew inside, but the shells were cracked and they looked like they had just been through an earthquake. The next two attempts were no more successful than the first. Both times I became so frustrated that I threw the batter into the sink in rage. After the third attempt, I swore to myself that I would never make macarons again. Then came Thursday, May 3, 2012.

I spent most of the night studying macarons. I watched all the videos and learned all the proper techniques: don't over whip your egg whites, make sure to use room temperature egg whites, weigh your ingredients, add a pinch of cream of tartar into your egg whites to help stabilize them, let your piped shells rest for 1 hour to create a proper coating. After having watched all those tutorials, my will power had diminished. I had to try one more time. I knew that I would succeed this time...I simply had to.

The final result? Why don't you see for yourself?

I finally made beautiful macarons with feet, a crispy exterior, and a chewy interior. They had great flavor and were the perfect late-night snack. I was so happy that I literally took a victory lap around my kitchen.

If you're a brave soul and you want to try to make your own macarons, here's the recipe. I used Dulce Delight's recipe:

Hazelnut macarons with Nutella buttercream
adapted from Dulce Delight

55g raw almonds
55g raw hazelnuts
200g confectioners sugar
2 tbsp cocoa powder
90g egg whites- aged for 2 days in your refrigerator 
pinch of cream of tartar
40g granulated sugar

Grind the almonds, hazelnuts, confectioners sugar, and cocoa powder in a food processor. Pulse until everything is finely ground and well mixed.

Using a stand mixer, whip the aged egg whites until frothy. Once they become frothy, add a pinch of cream and tartar and gradually add the granulated sugar. Once all the sugar has been added, whip the egg whites until you reach stiff peaks. (You know you've reached stiff peaks when none of the whites fall out of the bowl if you put the bowl over your head)

Sift your dry ingredients into the egg whites. Then, gently fold the ingredients together. (You don't have to be extremely careful at this stage. You want to get some of the air out, but not enough to deflate the whole mixture.) This step is called macaronage. To see if you've mixed enough, put a dollop of the mixture onto a clean plate. If the batter spreads out within 10 seconds and doesn't have a peak, it's ready. If there is still a peak, keep mixing the batter for another 10-15 seconds.

Once your mixture is thoroughly mixed, pour the mixture into a piping bag. Pipe either 1 or 1.5 inch rounds onto a baking sheet lined with silipat or parchment paper.

The next step is crucial!
Let your piped macarons dry at room temperature for 1 hour. This step ensures that your macarons get a crispy exterior and form those lovely feet.

50 minutes into the drying process, preheat your oven to 300 degrees F.

After 1 hour, bake your macarons for 15-20 minutes. You want the shells to look glossy and opaque. Cool completely.

Nutella buttercream
1 stick butter, softened
2 cups confectioners sugar
1/4 cup nutella

In a stand mixer, whip the butter until smooth. Slowly add the confectioners sugar. Whip until nice and airy, about 5 minutes. Add the nutella and keep whipping until the color is light brown and airy, about 3 minutes on medium speed.

Fill the one shell with about 1 tablespoon of nutella buttercream. Sandwich another shell on top, twisting slightly as you go.

Viola! You have now made delicious french macarons!

Now...if your macarons don't come out as expected the first time, I advise you to never give up. It takes time and practice to perfect these little treats. Never get discouraged...and never have a mental break down like I did.

I really hope you give this recipe a try and I hope you're happy with the results.

Happy baking!